Prof struggles to defend heritage buildings

With focus on expansion of Laurier Brantford, issues have been raised involving a strip of 41 heritage buildings that border the current campus. The lots occupied by the buildings, many of which predate Canada’s confederation, have been targeted as a prospective location for a recreation facility, possibly constructed in a joint project involving the YMCA.

Lisa Wood, professor of English and contemporary studies at Laurier Brantford, became involved in the issue when plans for an imminent and total demolition followed the City of Brantford’s recent expropriation of a three-block stretch along Colborne Street.

“The city decided that instead of opening public consultation while the buildings were still up, to go ahead with demolition and open up consultation later once they had an empty lot,” said Wood.

Without any assessment on the part of the city regarding the heritage, archaeological or environmental impacts of the demolition, Wood became involved in the movement to protect the buildings.

Her role was complicated after her e-mail to the demolition contractor, noting the heritage value of the buildings to be demolished and possible publicity, raised concerns.

Brantford contacted Laurier, as the e-mail originated from a Laurier e-mail address; on Feb. 12 Wood met with university administration.

“The meeting took place and the main discussion was that professors are certainly free to express their personal opinions on matters like this,” explained director of news and editorial services at Laurier Kevin Crowley.

“But they need to make clear that they aren’t speaking on behalf of the university, these are personal views.”

The issue was with the automatic signature in emails that lists contact information, in this case Wilfrid Laurier University.

“The main point of complaint was that my automatic signature lists my rank and work address,” Wood noted. “That’s their evidence for me purporting to speak on behalf of the university.”

Speaking on behalf of the school, or even being perceived as such, can be a problem, explained Jim Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, a national federation of post-secondary faculty associations. “No faculty member has the right to speak on behalf of the university without the university’s authorization,” said Turk.

Crowley explained that the university followed up with the situation because of the call they received from the city.

“The city was first concerned about some of the content that was in the e-mail, but the reason the city called was that professor Wood had sent it from her Laurier e-mail account and it had the digital signature.”

Crowley emphasized strongly that the circumstances surrounding the meeting were not hostile. “We made it clear that it wasn’t a disciplinary meeting in any way, shape or form. It wasn’t about reprimanding anyone, but we did have to discuss it because the city had given us a call.”

Despite this, Wood still felt there were issues in the way the situation was dealt with. “University professors don’t just have the right to engage in activities in the public interest,” she said. “In a sense, we have a responsibility to engage in those issues in a public way.”

She suggested that the way she was approached may have been mishandled and brought up the tenuous position she and the school were put in, as her employer is the prospective developer of the property, development she would like to see elsewhere.

“They’re definitely facilities that we need. The kinds of facilities you have up at Waterloo and we desperately need here, I mean we don’t even have a library.”